Modern Wellness in a Time of Coronavirus

Apr 13, 2020

COVID-19 and the recommendations for preventing its transmission have underscored the importance of good self-care. They’ve also demonstrated why caring for oneself isn’t selfish; it’s actually one of the kindest things we can to protect the health of everyone around us. (And conversely, caring for our collective health is also the best thing for each of us as individuals!)

So, as we work together to “flatten the curve” of transmission, most of us are being required to stay home, take a break from socializing, and also take a break from the many other things we’re accustomed to doing in our way-too-busy culture. We’re not going to the office, gym, or the movies, to restaurants or social clubs, to yoga studios, or even libraries! We’re not getting our hair cut, or our nails done, our oil changed, or our teeth cleaned. We’re staying home; alone or with housemates. We’re being forced to accept ourselves as human beings rather than human doings.

Difficult as this is for many of us, two of my favorite sayings address this “full stop” in our lives. One is “When you come to a wall in the road, life is telling you to make a turn.” The second is, “Turn obstacles into opportunities.” What we all are collectively experiencing now is a wall in the road; an obstacle that keeps us from “business as usual.” We can worry, bemoan, or rebel, or we can use this time as an opportunity.

How many of us habitually deprive ourselves of sleep because we have too many activities to cram into each day? How many of us rely on fast food because we don’t have the time to cook for ourselves at home? How many of us hardly know our children—or even our spouse—because we’re all so busy with our various activities? Now, at long last, life has handed us the gift of time.

Many of you know that once before, life handed me the gift of time. Following surgery to repair a detached retina, I was required to keep my head down, with my chin on my chest, for nearly a month, while my eye healed. I was going out of my mind with boredom and frustration, until my wife suggested I use the time to take up painting—which was something I could do from this position. I did—and now, more than 600 paintings later, painting has become one of my passions!

What might YOU use this time to do?

Clearly, we’re all relying more on devices than I normally recommend, but thanks to digital communications technology we can stay connected to information and each other, even without leaving home.

We can also use this gift of time to:

  • Read books
  • Cook delicious meals
  • Bake
  • Work in the garden
  • Write letters and make phone calls to friends and family
  • Play games, do puzzles, have conversations with your spouse and children
  • Take walks
  • Sleep in
  • Work out at home with a video or even a remote personal trainer
  • Crank up the stereo and have a living room dance party—alone or with family members
  • Give yourself a facial
  • Learn a new skill via video or a remote instructor
  • Paint, sculpt, knit, weave, sew, crochet, or engage in other creative pursuits
  • Develop a meditation or other spiritual practice
  • Journal
  • Foster a pet
  • Limit social media and COVID conversation to 2-3 updates daily, if that much
  • Focus on the good that is also accompanying this pandemic. There are countless people helping—from the frontline healthcare providers to the businesses donating services, or goods, or paying non-working employees, to neighbors delivering groceries for each other.
  • Become a helper. Find ways to offer your support—from ordering take-out from a local restaurant to donating to relief organizations. Helping others will empower you as well as provide practical assistance to others.
  • Reflect on your normal life and consider whether there are any changes you might like to make
  • Envision a new future for yourself

As a resident of Los Angeles, I remember another “shutdown” that inconvenienced us for a while, but also offered surprising benefits. In 2011 and 2012, one of the busiest freeways in Los Angeles, the 405, was closed for repairs. The pundits called it “Carmageddon,” because we couldn’t imagine how terrible traffic would be on the remaining thoroughfares with the 405 closed to travel. But instead, people found that the shutdown also presented opportunities. As radio station KCRW reported:
“It was one of these magical moments in LA history where people listened to the suggestions that it might be tough. [But] you had a lot of businesses giving local discounts or free museum admission. There were all sorts of reasons to stay in your neighborhood.”

There were even photos of people having picnics on the empty freeway. All that space was now available for other uses!

As KCRW also reported, “UCLA did a study on air quality and air pollution during the 2011 Carmageddon. What they found was an immediate drop in the really, really bad particulate matter -- the kind of pollution that is directly attributed to cars, of course… It was locally much better in Santa Monica and Westwood. But it was a citywide improvement, from just that one little change.”

Similarly, NASA images show a dramatic clearing of the polluted skies over China following its coronavirus shutdown of industry and transportation.

So, consider this disruption of “business as usual” as an opportunity, as well as an obstacle. We’ve come to a wall in the road we are accustomed to traveling and life is insisting that we make a turn.

I encourage you to make that turn work for you!